by Dan Dinello

“The Cylon Occupation Authority continues to assert complete control over the city and we remain at their mercy. Our insurgency has been striking back against the Cylons whenever and wherever possible. Although these attacks sometimes seem like futile gestures, I believe they are critical to morale, to maintaining some measure of hope.”
            Former President Laura Roslin, New Caprica Diary

“Violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them and restores their self-confidence. Decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain ‘species’ of men by another ‘species’ of men. For the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists.” Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Hooded occupation police, wearing body armor and night vision goggles, kick down a door. A baby screams as his mother is cuffed and dragged off in the middle of the night. A prisoner, one eye gouged out, crouches in the dank corner of a dirty cell. In a dilapidated outpost, a young man straps on a vest full of explosives. He waits nervously at the graduation for new police forces. When an occupation official draws close, he presses the detonator on his chest.  The explosion rips apart the ceremony and destroys the occupying force’s sense of confidence and security. These aren't scenes from news coverage of Iraq; they're images from the third season of Battlestar Galactica, the most politically relevant and disturbing show on television.

In its first two seasons, Battlestar Galactica vividly depicted the post-9/11 clash of civilizations. The robotic Cylons, religious fanatics who justify mass murder as a means of carrying out God’s will in the face of human corruption, implied a fierce parallel with radical Islam’s global jihad. Humanoid Cylon sleeper agents struck from within human society - one detonated himself in a failed suicide attack, another almost assassinated Admiral Adama. As survivors of a genocidal attack, the humans on Battlestar Galactica suggested a tough, heroic America courageously defending itself despite shaky leadership. President Laura Roslin - though more than a stand-in for George Bush - was an unprepared chief executive (forty-third in the line of succession, get it?) who turned to Holy Scriptures as a guide in a time of war. At one point, she said, “The interesting thing about being president is you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody,” a paraphrase of a Bush quote.

We as audience sided with humanity as a metaphor for America, though the moral issues occasionally became queasily ambiguous. When they discovered a Cylon terrorism suspect, human interrogators viciously tortured her. With this disturbing similarity to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of Guantanamo prison, Battlestar Galactica suggested the thin membrane between humanity and brutality as well as the dubious legitimacy of civil liberty crackdowns in Patriot Act America. The show persisted in raising tough questions about the preservation of American values in the face of rampaging paranoia about internal subversion. Nevertheless, Battlestar Galactica clearly portrayed the Cylons as evil, unsympathetic, maniacal machines in their obsessive desire to destroy humanity, while the humans - though afflicted with a dark streak of vengeance and racism - were righteously sympathetic as they fought only to defend themselves.

Then at the end of Season Two, Battlestar Galactica made a startling, mind-boggling shift - morphing the hated Cylons into American Occupiers and the beloved Humans into Terrorists. Through a 10-part series of Webisodes and the beginning of Season Three, the show’s geopolitical focus shifted from terror alert America to war-torn Iraq and, in the process, went where no other work of fictional pop culture dared. It provided a devastating, incisive, and subversive critique of the American occupation of Iraq. It did so by dramatizing an unprovoked invasion, portraying the damaging effect on those occupied, sympathizing with a morally ambiguous but legitimate insurgency, and aligning itself with the violent radical philosophy of black French revolutionary Frantz Fanon.

Battlestar Iraqtica

The ragtag remnants of humanity make their home on a dusty, desolate planet they call New Caprica. A year later, the defenseless, impoverished humans are invaded by the technologically superior Cylons, a race of zealot cyborgs. Instead of slaughtering everyone, the Cylons colonize the planet and impose their way of life. While evoking Nazi occupation of France and French occupation of Algeria, Battlestar Galactica most closely resembles the American occupation of Iraq.

The Cylons seek to save the perverse, primitive humans by bringing them the word of God and converting them to Cylon ideology - by military force. As in Iraq, a dominant power wants to shepherd a much weaker one, but the help turns oppressive as the barbed wire is unrolled, the blast walls are built, and the jails are filled. Prisoners are moved about wearing Abu Ghraib-like hoods over their heads. The Cylon leaders - like Bush and Company - think of themselves as benevolent while ordering the imprisonment, torture, and execution of those that don’t cooperate with the colonizing agenda. If innocent civilians get massacred or maimed in the religious crusade, that’s regrettable but necessary collateral damage.

In an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion, the Cylon Occupational Authority (which mimics the American Coalition Provisional Authority that first ruled Iraq) installs an (elected) president Gaius Baltar as puppet leader - a feckless, figurehead surrounded by sycophants and ideologues. Like Iraq’s American-backed leaders, President Baltar has no street credibility and, according to Laura Roslin, functions “in name only.”  The Cylon occupiers take over Baltar’s palatial spaceship Colonial One, turning it into their base of operations and a visible symbol of the occupation - a version of Baghdad’s Green Zone. The humans, like many Iraqis, are predictably not enthused about the forcible seizure of their homeland by self-appointed rulers. They immediately launch an insurgency, using stolen weapons, improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombers.  The occupiers prefer not to be brutal, but they won't accept the failure of a glorious mission sanctioned by God.

One Cylon leader Brother Cavil - disgusted with his colleagues' fears about a human resistance - shouts, "How did you think the humans would greet us? With—oh, never mind,” echoing Dick Cheney’s infamous remark “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” American recruitment of Iraqi police is paralleled by Cylon recruitment of indigenous human security forces. Their brutal raids on unsuspecting human civilians are recorded with the night-vision green familiar to any news viewer. Even the background music is faux Arab.

Obviously, Battlestar Galactica simplifies the situation in Iraq. Unlike the American invasion, Cylon motivation doesn’t involve fabricated links to a terrorist network, exaggerated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, the seizure of an important energy resource, or the deposition and killing of a brutal dictator. The human insurgency doesn’t expand into a civil war between religious rivals or conflict with even more extreme terrorists. These simplifications are not only necessary given the already-established nature of Battlestar Galactica’s fictional world, but also serve to clarify important aspects of the conflict - the brutal, racist nature of occupation, its inevitable provocation of an indigenous revolt, and the ensuing spiral of violence that devours combatants and civilians alike. The powerful implications of Battlestar Galactica’s critique - as seen through the prism of Frantz Fanon’s political philosophy - helps us understand some of the devastating moral, social, and historical consequences of America’s invasion of Iraq.

The Bible of Decolonization

At the level of human rights, foreign occupation is violence personified, systematic enslavement, and fascism with a smiling face, according to philosopher and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon. Described by The New York Review of Books in 1966 as the “Black Rosseau,” Fanon stridently urged violent revolution as a necessary and justified response to colonization. His most influential work, The Wretched of the Earth, helped inspire the decolonization strategy of guerrilla warfare that was successful in Algeria’s fight for independence - methods also employed by Castro and Guevara in Cuba, the NLF in Viet Nam, the Palestinians, the IRA, South African militants, and now insurgents in Iraq.

One of the architects of the Iraq war, neo-conservative Richard Perle presciently drew attention to Fanon in 2001: “We constantly hear the reiteration of such themes as we don’t know who the enemy is, we don’t know where to strike them and that the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ are so desperate that they would not fear honorable death at the hands of what they see as the Great Satan.” (Richard Perle, “Get Governments out of Terrorism Business,” National Post, September 19, 2001, A16.)

Attacked by some as a glorifier of violence and by others as a utopian, Fanon projected a future vision of a new African unity, arising from the ashes of collective revolutionary violence, has not been borne out by events. But this doesn’t invalidate his analysis of colonization and decolonialization. Fanon, the political sociologist, understood the difficulty of creating the society that Fanon, the political philosopher, said ought be the ideal. Wretched of the Earth achieves significance as an essay on the nature and morality of foreign occupation and violent liberation - from the perspective of the colonized victim turned revolutionary. Courageously, Battlestar Galactica dramatizes Fanon’s ideas, applying his analysis to the Iraq occupation and insurgency.

The Spiral of Violence

The rationale for colonization of New Caprica is provided by Brother Cavil, architect of the occupation - the Cylon Donald Rumsfield, “We’re saving them from damnation by bringing the love of god to these poor benighted people.” Overtly racist, the Cylons believe that humanity is corrupt, evil and consumed with hatred. “Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context,” said Fanon, “It becomes clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to.” The colonial state’s narcissistic and vainglorious proclamations of progressive principles, according to Fanon, reduce the indigenous population to that of a child who must be protected from itself, “from its ego, its physiology, its biology, and its ontological misfortune.” Fanon challenged the claim that colonial invasion was an evangelizing mission; rather, it’s the first step in the occupying power’s spiral of brutality.

Colonial rule is preceded, inaugurated and maintained by the use of physical force. “The official, legitimate agent, the spokesperson for the colonizer and the regime of oppression, is the police officer or the soldier,” said Fanon. “The government’s agent speaks the language of pure violence.” The Cylons impose their paternalism with guns, bombs, and prison. While President Baltar spinelessly surrendered to the Cylons, his own vice-president - who refused to cooperate - was jailed. “Hundreds of us have been rounded up, held in detention, questioned, tortured,” writes Laura Roslin. “Others have simply vanished.”  With no system for redressing grievances against the occupiers, the wretched of New Caprica survive fearfully at the mercy of military power.

Along with overt physical violence, Fanon emphasized the psychological violence that destroys the souls of the occupied - the literal colonization of their minds. The occupying power wants to create alienated individuals who embrace their new rulers’ propaganda and reject their own values. Imprisoned in an apartment jail, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace is psychologically manipulated by Cylon Leoben. He wants to force her to love him for the purpose of copulation and reproduction, a kind of biological imperialism. Though she violently resists, her mind has been infected.  After liberation, she says to her husband, “I’m in a different place. I got out of the cell and it’s like someone painted the world in different colors. I look at you and I want to tear your eyes out. I want to hurt someone.”

The Cylons also employ psychological violence to recruit human police whose dirty job involves the repression of its own race. Dramatizing another aspect of Fanon’s philosophy of colonization, the Cylons’ creation of a proxy police force masks their horrific acts with a human face while producing a native elite, alienated from their own people. It’s hard to think of anything more despicable than humans doing the dirty work of the Cylons,” notes Roslin. “They were led to believe they were taking the civilian security out of the hands of the Cylons, but the human police force have become extensions of the Cylon’s corporeal authority.”

Sleazy cyborg Aaron Doral, whose blandness belies his sadism, persuades weak-minded Jammer that the Cylons regret their recent slaughter of innocent women and children. Doral brainwashes Jammer into believing the utopian propaganda of Cylons and humans working side-by-side, growing flowers and fruits rather than killing each other. Doral offers Jammer the “opportunity” to prevent further bloodshed by informing the authorities of insurgent plans that might endanger innocent lives. Though Jammer initially balks at betraying the human resistance, he later joins the secret New Caprica Police, carries out raids, and calls the Cylons “sir.” A stranger in his own homeland, he enforces the Cylon occupation and helps bring about the bloodshed he wants to avoid.

Stop the Machines, Win Freedom

Resistance to the Cylon occupation begins even before their invasion. Under the policies of President Baltar, New Caprica suffers from shortages of food, clothing, medical supplies, and building materials. Living in tents, they endure Katrina-like conditions without the flood. Many blame Baltar’s lack of leadership and incompetency for the economic and social disaster. A Gallup poll would show abysmal, Bush-like approval ratings. Baltar couldn’t care less. Living in luxury and permanently wearing a bathrobe like a futuristic Hugh Hefner, Baltar spends his time cavorting with bimbos and consuming drugs. Furious with him, Union president Galen Tyrol and his pregnant wife Cally lead a revolt. As Fanon notes, social injustice motivates radical political action to change the situation.

In a passionate speech that inspires a general strike and links Battlestar Galactica to Fanon, Marxism, and 1960s New Left radicalism, Tyrol proclaims:
“There comes a time when you realize that the engine you’ve built - with your blood and your sweat and your tears - is being used for something so foul and so perverted that it makes you sick in your heart and it’s then that you know you have to throw your body on the gears and on the levers and on the machine itself and make it stop and  show the people who run it, the people who control it, that unless we’re free that machine will be prevented from working at all.”

These words, that can be taken literally or figuratively, derive directly from a 1964 speech given by charismatic New Left student leader Mario Savio to a mass demonstration at the height of Berkeley Free Speech Movement. (To see Savio’s speech, check out Mark Kitchell’s 1990 documentary Berkeley in the Sixties or search for it on YouTube.) 1960s student activism got initial impetus from this campus revolt and inspiration from Frantz Fanon. Tyrol’s speech simultaneously evokes Karl Marx’s notion of workers seizing the means of production from capitalist overseers and New Left philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s criticism of technology’s repressive effect on the human condition. Once Cylon colonization begins, Tyrol’s union leadership provides him with the experience to motivate and organize the human resistance while the union represents politically conscious nationalist elements.

The speech plays a crucial role in Battlestar Galactica’s justification for the insurgency in that it makes freedom the central objective of the humans’ struggle against the machines. The fight for collective and individual liberation becomes the defining rationale - the end that justifies any means. For an oppressed, colonized people, true liberation - according to Fanon - legitimized and required violent action. The occupier will never confer freedom on the occupied - it must be taken back by force.

Holy Violence

In response to organized resistance, the Cylon machines amplify their repression - they institute a curfew, imprison violators, and shoot humans on the spot, if weapons are found in their tents. The insurgents move their meager arsenal into the Temple, a sacred place that confers sacramental value on guns and bullets. While several worshippers pray, the Cylons - who view the humans as “infidels” - announce a search. When people panic and run, they are slaughtered by Cylon Centurions.

Despite its horror, the massacre invigorates the human rebellion, igniting political action. Siding with the insurgency, a thousand people angrily protest outside Colonial One and hundreds of fighters commit to the resistance. To the insurgency, the loss of human life was worth the propaganda victory. “Never dreamed we’d get this lucky,” states rebel leader Saul Tigh coldly. When Jammer protests this tough attitude, Tigh upbraids him: “Instead of bawling like a little girl, you should focus on getting some payback . . . blood for blood. We’re at war.” Tigh expresses the rage and vengeance that occupation violence engenders as well as the tension that, Fanon noted, necessarily erupts within the ranks of the colonized.

When the insurgents decide to hide explosives near a hospital, Jammer criticizes their lack of concern for the patients’ safety.  This reflects natural human empathy.  But, from Fanon’s revolutionary viewpoint, it reveals Jammer’s domestication and indoctrination by the enemy.  The aspiration to do the right thing - collectively fight the colonizer - can be undermined by individual fragility, personal animosities, or traditional morality. After leaving the meeting, Jammer rats out the resistance.

Tigh is captured, interrogated, beaten, and tortured. The Cylons poke out one of his eyes. As he languishes in the barren cell, his spirits are lifted when the insurgents push their violent resistance to a new level. Tyrol and Sam Anders explode an improvised explosive device and cheer wildly when it kills several Cylons; this embodies Fanon’s vision of violence as a liberating force that creates optimism, hope and self-confidence. As he says, “For the colonized, life can only materialize from the rotting cadaver of the colonist.”

Fanon preached a new kind of moral obligation for an occupied people. He invested violence with positive, formative, even religious features. The armed struggle mobilizes people into a single direction from which there is no turning back.  It introduces the notion of “common cause, national destiny, and collective history into every consciousness . . . mortar kneaded with blood and rage.”  Fanon went on to say, “This violent praxis is totalizing since each individual represents a violent link in the almighty body of violence rearing up. All of this is reminiscent of a religious brotherhood, a church, a mystical doctrine.”

Terrified Made Terrifying

With Tigh eyeless and out of prison, the insurgents plot their next move. The Cylon escalation of violence, including torture and mass executions, feeds the insurgency. As the United States discovered in Iraq, the torturing of suspects and the killing of civilians provoke anger against the occupiers and increase sympathy for the insurgents. Violence begets violence: this is the mad psychology of occupation, according to Fanon. The human resistance must ramp up their tactics. “In order for the insurgency to have a more meaningful impact,” Roslin writes, “We must strike a high profile target.” A suicide bomber will kill the despicable collaborator Gaius Baltar along with other Cylon brass at the upcoming New Caprica Police Graduation. 

The morality of this new strategy sparks intense debate. Anders complains that going after Baltar will inevitably harm humans - members of the police force. “So what?” says Tigh. “Send them a message: you work with the Cylons, you’re a target. There’s no boundaries for the Cylons, then there’s no boundaries for us.”  For Tigh, insurgent actions can’t be restricted by moral limits when the enemy recognizes none. Tyrol argues that it’s wrong to send a human to kill himself. But Tigh disagrees. For him, the end justifies the means: “It’s our best chance to take out Gaius Baltar.” Morally wrong actions are justified to achieve morally right outcomes.

Philosophical controversy about whether the end ever justifies the means starts as far back as Plato’s Republic. Even Christian missionary St. Paul, the Apostle, argued that immoral behavior was acceptable as long as it spread Christianity - though he didn’t address suicide bombing specifically. Fanon held that freedom is the highest good: it’s what makes us human. Therefore, he encouraged violence as a means to a desirable end when it is “socially organized and ideologically directed” to achieve the liberation of the colonized. At the same time, Fanon condemned the violence inflicted by the colonizer on the colonized - such violence destroys their humanity, turning them into subhumans - animals or slaves. For Fanon, violence in the service of repression was the greatest evil, violence in the service of liberation the greatest good. “Killing is a necessity,” agreed philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre bluntly in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth, “Eliminating in one go oppressor and oppressed: leaving one man dead and the other man free.”

In despair after the slaying of his wife in the Temple massacre, another insurgent Duck volunteers for the suicide mission. The occupiers have taken everything, so he has nothing to lose. Like the majority of actual suicide terrorists, Duck is motivated by his social and family network rather than ideology. He wants to avenge Nora’s murder.  His friends will profit from his action, not him.  Despite Baltar’s absence from the graduation ceremony, Duck fulfills his mission. “I’ll see you soon, Nora,” he says, pressing the trigger that blasts a shockwave through the colonizers.

The Violent Mirror

Angry and frustrated by the horrific suicide bombing, Brother Cavil argues the colonizer’s version of the end-justifies-the-means:  “If we’re bringing the word of god then it follows that we should employ any means necessary to do so. Fear is a key article of faith, so maybe it’s time to instill a little fear into the people’s hearts and minds.”  Once again, Battlestar Galactica associates the Cylon colonizers with American colonizers by twisting a key phrase from the Vietnam War - winning hearts and minds.

Cavil wants to publicly execute leaders and random groups alike until the insurgency stops or the human population is reduced to a “manageable size.” Cylon Sharon Valerii protests that this is butchery. But she’s over-ruled and a major surge is ordered. “Terror, counter-terror, violence, counter-violence,” said Fanon. “Far from breaking the momentum, repression intensifies the progress made by the national consciousness.”

Once the colonized have chosen counter-violence, further attacks by occupation soldiers automatically call forth reprisals by the nationalist forces. Obviously, the outcome is profoundly unequal in horror and scope - the colonizers’ possess much greater destructive capability. Since innocent people are inevitably intimidated, hurt, or killed, the occupier’s military become terrorists. Therefore, the technologically weaker force adopts terror tactics of its own. The oppressors’ increased violence is reflected back on itself.

“Desperate people use desperate measures,” says Laura Roslin in response to surrender-monkey Baltar who urges her to condemn the suicide bombing. He says, “Using men and women as human bombs is contrary to everything we believe in . . . these tactics cannot be legitimized in any shape or form.” But Roslin asserts that these attacks successfully strike fear into the hearts of the occupiers. She agrees with Fanon who said that social injustice drives men to desperate ends and to the conviction that only path to justice and freedom is through physical violence. Without directly defending suicide bombing, she accuses Baltar of permitting the torture of Col. Tigh and others.  Baltar echoes George Bush (“This country doesn’t torture”), with similar disingenuousness, when he responds, “Nobody has been tortured.”

Though she strongly supports the insurgency, Roslin later criticizes Tigh for encouraging suicide bombing. He refuses to alter that strategy. Tigh tells her to “take your moralizing and your high-minded principles and stick them someplace safe until you’re off this rock . . . I’ve got a war to fight.”  Tigh’s uncompromising attitude paraphrases Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical response to liberals who wouldn’t support violent Algerian anti-colonialists. “They don’t care a shit for its support; it can shove it up its ass for what it’s worth.” (Preface). For Sartre and Fanon, colonial aggression legitimizes any method of decolonization. In a time of helplessness, murderous rampage becomes the expression of humanity.

The Wretched Liberated

Moralizing thoughts reflected passiveness, according to Fanon. They undermined the insurgency. If a strategy moved the people closer to liberation, then it was justified. “For the colonized, to be a moralist quite simply means silencing the arrogance of the colonist,” said Fanon, “breaking his spiral of violence, in a word ejecting him outright from the picture. The colonist must be determined to take the place of the colonizer.” This required “the collapse of an entire moral and material universe.”

In Battlestar Galactica, Tigh represents this point of view. Tyrol and Anders tell him that the Cylons will shut down the marketplace to cut the food supply. Tigh regrets this, not for its nutritional impact, but rather because he planned to bomb it. Tyrol is aghast that Tigh would attack a place full of innocent human civilians. He says, “We need to figure out whose side we’re on.” Tigh makes a cryptic reply, “We’re on the side of the demons. We’re evil men in the garden of paradise. Sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go.”

Anticolonial violence, according to Fanon, was sometimes experienced as a psychic and affective curse rather than as a political cause. Victims of oppression must remember that they can be arrested, beaten and starved with impunity. “Those values which seemed to ennoble the soul prove worthless,” said Fanon, “Because they have nothing in common with the real-life struggle in which the people are engaged.” The colonized must overthrow the colonizer to regain their humanity, even if it meant temporarily sacrificing moral values.

The Cylon colonial world is beginning to crack. Another suicide attack critically wounds twenty-four Cylons.  The insurgency sabotages a substation, leaving most of the city without power. The Cylons must increase control or lose control. At gunpoint, they force Baltar to sign an executive order to execute hundreds of detainees. When Baltar’s Cylon lover Six protests, Doral shoots her in the head. In dismay, Cylon D’Anna exclaims, “Consensus used to be so easy, now look what they’ve done to us.” This reminds us of how the American consensus for war has dissolved into accusations, acrimony and divisiveness.

The Cylons debate whether they should destroy the troublesome human colony with a nuclear weapon. They don’t realize that, like the U.S., they lost when they invaded. The insurgents have solidified their hold on the public imagination. The Resistance will sow as much chaos and confusion as possible as part of a daring rescue plan with Admiral Adama and Galactica. At the sound of the first explosions, the Cylon leaders rush to the windows of Colonial One and look out on a city that is bursting into flame. Under extreme duress, Baltar tells the Cylons the truth that they were too secure in their smug superiority, too comfortable in their predictions of easy success to even consider the possibility of defeat.  This suggests part of the reason for the American fiasco in Iraq - blind arrogance.

As Tyrol, Cally and their baby escape, Cylon D’Anna recognizes that they’ve not only failed to domesticate the humans on New Caprica, they’ve created a new generation of Cylon-haters. The humans will raise their children with stories of the Cylon killers who committed genocide against humanity and that their children will repeat the story to their children, inculcating a dream of vengeance so that one day they will go out and hunt Cylons. Occupation undermines counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism; it reproduces the horror that it seeks to eradicate. Before the invasion, Iraq was free of terrorism.

I am using “terrorism” here in its conventional sense: “Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” (Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f.d, 2). As Senator Jim Webb said, “There were no terrorists in Iraq before we invaded.” (CNN, November 2, 2007) Now, Iraq has become a breeding ground for a new generation of smarter, more experienced terrorists -- the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)

New Humans

Before departing New Caprica, Tigh poisons his wife for betraying the insurgency. This initiates a new phase in the human revolution that continues when the surviving humans return to Galactica. “National unity begins with the settling of old scores and the elimination once and for all of any resentment,” said Fanon. “Those indigenous elements who have dishonored the country by their complicity with the enemy are included in the cleansing process.”

In the episode “Collaborators,” several former insurgents organize the “Circle,” a secret, extra-legal tribunal to play judge, jury and executioner for “crimes against humanity.” They convict Jammer of treason for his membership in the Cylon-controlled police force. Though his guilt seems clear, their methods feel harsh. As he pleads for mercy, they ruthlessly execute him, ejecting him out of ship’s airlock into space. The atmosphere of revenge grows stifling when the tribunal urges the conviction and killing of Baltar’s assistant Gaeta without specific evidence. Though Gaeta is saved at the last moment when they realize he was a secret ally of the insurgency, the Circle has crossed the line separating justice from vengeance, becoming little more than thugs out to settle personal scores. Anders quits the group. “I want to stop killing people,” he says.

Taking both a moral and political stance, Fanon believed that the period of payback retaliation must end quickly to restore national unity. “One does not sustain a war, one does not endure massive repression in order for hatred or racism to triumph,” he said. “Racism, hatred, resentment, and ‘the legitimate desire for revenge’ alone cannot nurture liberation . . . leaders will come to realize that hatred is not an agenda.” Fanon regarded decolonization as something more than the overthrow of an oppressive regime. Violent revolution inspired a spiritual rebirth and the emergence of a new social and political consciousness, an essential step in the process of fundamental social change. “Decolonization is truly the creation of new men,” he said. This new humanity defined a “new history of man” that derived from the violent methods of the liberation struggle.

Agreeing with Fanon, “new thinking” is required for the humans of Battlestar Galactica in order to shape their future. In her presidential acceptance speech, Laura Roslin proclaims a “new beginning.” Rather than investigating and prosecuting acts of  collaboration with the enemy, she issues a general pardon for every human being in the fleet. “We all feel the need for justice, and we all feel the need for vengeance,” she says.  “And telling the difference between the two can be difficult at times. We are all victims of the Cylons. But I truly believe that this is the only way for us to move forward in strength in a spirit of healing and reconciliation.”

Yet it’s questionable whether this new spirit means much. Palpable animosity still exists between those who fought the occupation on New Caprica and those that stayed aboard the ships, though certainly that tension is held in check. While the hated Gaius Baltar is not pardoned, he does receive a fair trial and gets acquitted. It seems that a new consciousness, a spirit of compromise, should also extend to their Cylon enemies. However, in the episode “Measure of Salvation,” Roslin gets handed an opportunity to exterminate the Cylons. Despite Adama’s concern that “we will lose a piece of our of our souls” and a Cylon plea for a “new beginning,” Roslin - the voice of reconciliation - orders a biological attack that will likely result in Cylon extinction. Though the genocidal plan gets averted by accidental circumstances, it’s clear that the “new humanity” is a lot like the old.

As in Battlestar Galactica, Fanon’s utopian dream of a new humanity, arising from the ashes of occupation and the collective violence of liberation, did not happen in Algeria and Africa. Philosopher Hannah Arendt agreed with Fanon that collective violence, like suicide squads and revolutionary brotherhoods, engendered close political kinships; but she disagreed that these would lead to an enlightened, unified nation state. “No human relationship is more transitory than this kind of brotherhood that can be actualized only under conditions of immediate danger to life and limb,” she wrote. “The hope . . . that a new community and a ‘new man’ will arise out of collective violence is an illusion.” says Hannah Arendt in On Violence.

The Future

The Iraq occupation - its history and possible future - is clarified by Battlestar Galactica’s critical alignment with Fanon’s philosophy. Foreign occupation is shown to be racist, paternalistic, dehumanizing and violent. Resistance to the repression of freedom is so important that a core group cannot accept defeat. As Starbuck says when the Cylon troops first march down the streets of New Caprica, “We’ll do what we always do, fight them until we can’t.” The superior technological force of the colonizer leads technologically weak indigenous forces to apply guerrilla or terrorist tactics because playing the game of “civilized” warfare would get them slaughtered. And so they fight on using the only tactics available to them.

The hit-and-run guerrilla strategy provokes the occupier into using its overwhelming force so that the life of the population cannot continue normally. Using home invasion, detention, torture and the killing of civilians, an occupier - like the Cylons or the Americans - swats flies with grenades, encouraging the ambivalent population to choose sides. Once the insurgency’s recruitment pipeline gets established, the only exclusively military solution available to the occupier is genocide, or some form of ethnic cleansing. An occupying power unwilling to go that far must accept the fact that a military victory cannot be obtained. The insurgency bleeds the occupiers who want to rule the region at a finite cost. If the insurgents cannot be crushed within the cost limitations of the occupier, then eventually the occupier will want to stop the bleeding, give the rebels want they want, and leave. The insurgents win by not losing. This is the story of the Cylons in New Caprica. This is also the story of the Americans in Vietnam, the French in Algeria, and the Americans in Iraq.

As for the tactic of suicide bombing, the human insurgents of Battlestar Galactica employ it in response to foreign occupation. This dramatizes what research shows - “Suicide terrorist attacks are, almost always, part of an organized campaign to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from territory the terrorists consider its homeland,” says Robert A. Pape, “When death is an Option” (Chicago Tribune, June 29, 2005).  More than two-thirds of the world’s suicide terrorists come from Sunni Muslim countries where the United States has stationed tens of thousands of troops. Iran, for example, has never produced a suicide terrorist. Prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraq had never produced a suicide terrorist. Since then, Iraqi suicide bombing has escalated rapidly. In fact, “Iraq has superseded all the other suicide-bomb campaigns in modern history combined,” says Mohammed Hafez, author of “Suicide Bombers in Iraq.” While one stated objective of the Iraq War was to stop Muslim terror attacks, the sustained presence of heavy American combat forces, in Muslim countries, increases the odds of terrorism. The attempt to transform Muslim society by Americans and human society by Cylons - through military force - has worsened the situation.

Battlestar Galactica raises the question of whether the insurgency, in New Caprica and Iraq, is legitimate. Despite its moral ambiguities, the answer is a qualified yes. A violent insurgency is necessary to resist the foreign occupier. “Colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking,’ said Fanon. “It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence.” Aligned with Fanon’s philosophy, Battlestar Galactica establishes freedom as the greatest good, the highest value, and rationalizes the insurgent violence as being beyond morality. Further, the Occupation episodes - and the show’s entire history - are designed to encourage us to root for the success of the human resistance in its fight for liberation, including its most brutal tactics - suicide bombers who take special aim at the colonizers and the treasonous human police force. This makes the show astonishing and subversive.  Unlike any other fiction or documentary, Battlestar Galactica persuades us to understand and even sympathize with the viewpoint of the occupied and the insurgents - our real-world enemies. As Jean-Paul Sartre says of Wretched of the Earth, “Have the courage to read it, primarily because it will make you feel ashamed, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary feeling.”











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